by Steve Sisson
The two most important days in this training program are the workout that we do when we meet together & the long run. If on certain weeks you find that you are unable to fit the other runs in you will be OK if you complete the workouts & long run. Why is the long run so important? It is the foundation of what will become your base. Think of this training program as a house. In order to build a house you must have the foundation balanced & secure. The wider base you construct, the larger the house that you are able to build. Training for the marathon is no different. We will begin to add time to your long run consistently each week in order to gradually increase the amount of time that you are on your feet. There are a number of important rules to follow with regard to the long run.
Long Run Rule #1: Keep it conversational. You should be running easy enough to carry on a conversation comfortably. This means that you are breathing at an easy rate, your body is relaxed & comfortable (especially for the first two-thirds of the long run), you are taking water breaks wherever necessary & are generally out for an extended good time. The long run itself is enough stress on your body that you will not need to run fast. Running fast is actually counterproductive, especially early on.
Long Run Rule #2: Run for time, not distance. Our goal with the long run is to increase the amount of time spent on your legs. For each runner the distance that they will cover in the prescribed time will be different & is essentially unimportant. Stress is a function of time spent doing an activity; so slower runners are often stressed more, even when completing lower mileage than their faster counterparts. A slower runner will take 50% more steps, even if they cover the same distance. For this reason, to avoid overtraining & injury, a slower runner may have to run less total mileage than a faster runner.
Long Run Rule #3: Be gradual. Remember the 10% rule. Our entire training program is focused upon gradually increasing your long run mileage & weekly mileage. The way we control this increase is to only increase the total distance covered each week by 10%. Scientific studies & years of personal trial & error have shown that the human body can adapt to any stress if we give it adequate time. In a 12-week program we have the perfect amount of time to get runners over the distance that you will cover in the marathon (26.2 miles.)
Long Run Rule #4: Pamper yourself. After a long run your muscles have shortened significantly. The limited range of motion that you use, due to the slower speed & duration that you are running, cause the muscles throughout your body, but especially the hamstrings & calves, to become very tight & stiff. For this reason, you should stretch slowly but for an extended period of time. If you have added massage to your recovery regimen then this is a great day to get a massage. Eat what you crave (you will be HUNGRY after these long runs) & drink copious amounts of water.
Long Run Rule #5: Drink before you are thirsty. By the time that you are thirsty on a long run, you are already significantly dehydrated. Even if it is a cold, rainy day your body still needs to take frequent water breaks. How often should you stop for water? Once every 30 minutes is the bare minimum & once every 20 minutes is ideal. I recommend that everyone drink a gallon of water a day for your body to run efficiently. After your run, drink an electrolyte replacement fluid that has at least 50 grams of carbohydrates to aid in recovery & replenishment.
Long Run Rule #6: Cautiously run with a friend. Given the amount of time that you are out on the trail or roads running these long runs it can get boring rather quickly. For this reason it makes it a lot easier to run with a friend. This is an excellent thing as long as your friend runs the same pace that you do. If he or she runs faster than you do you may be asking for trouble. Even a pace difference of 10-15 seconds per miles can be the difference between running conversationally & struggling. Your long runs will wear you down & possibly cause an injury if you are not vigilant about staying in your comfort zone.
Long Run Rule #7: Have a great time. If it ain’t fun, it ain’t gonna happen. Week in, week out the long run is a consistent feature of our training program. In order for you to remain motivated & consistent, the long runs need to be fun.
Armed with these rules, you will be more prepared to handle the aches & pains that are associated with the long run. Remember that the critical aspects of this training program are the long runs & organized workouts. There is one more benefit associated with the long run that has passed into the realm of myth & legend: the Runner’s High. The only way you will ever experience this disembodied state is to keep consistent with your long run.